What makes people happier – money or status?

A new study by researchers at the University of Warwick finds that money only makes people happier if it improves their social rank.

A well known example of this effect was documented by economist Robert H Frank. He asked people if they would prefer to live in a 4,000 ft2 house where all the neighbouring houses were 6,000 ft2, or in a 3,000 ft2 house where all the neighbours lived in houses that were 2,000 ft2. A majority of respondents chose the 3,000 ft2 house – smaller in absolute terms than the first option but larger in relative terms.

Where being brilliantly avaricious counts most? (Cut paper)

This is not a new insight but I think it is very important that planners and architects appreciate it – in fact it is very important for anyone who has clients or who is involved in policy development and implementation. Status matters. The trick is to direct it in ways that are as environmentally, economically and socially benign as possible. Bicycles rather than BMWs!

The researchers were seeking to explain why people in rich nations have not become any happier on average over the last 40 years even though economic growth has led to substantial increases in average incomes.

Lead researcher on the paper, Chris Boyce from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology said:

“Our study found that the ranked position of an individual’s income best predicted general life satisfaction, while the actual amount of income and the average income of others appear to have no significant effect. Earning a million pounds a year appears to be not enough to make you happy if you know your friends all earn 2 million a year”

The study, entitled “Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction”, will be published in the journal Psychological Science. The researchers looked at data on earnings and life satisfaction from seven years of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which is a representative longitudinal sample of British households. Read the rest of this entry »